It's a popular fact to cite when describing the vast size of the : it even includes schools in Rancho Cordova. That area's seat on the district's Board of Education, Area 7, is up for election this fall. Incumbent Al Rowlett faces opposition from two other candidates and will be campaigning for the first time.
[Editor's note: This is the second in a series of profiles of the candidates running for school board in Elk Grove. , and check back to read about the race for Area 1. The candidates in this story are presented alphabetically by last name. ]
Theresa Beals Urges Focus on Students
When Theresa Beals moved from a Chicago suburb to Rancho Cordova six years ago, she got two big surprises: She actually needed a winter coat and her kids had a lot of half-days at school.
"My intent was to go back to work [but] there's a lot of half days and then there's a huge summer," she said.
Beals, who has an adult daughter and sons in and , is making her first bid for public office. She said she hopes to bring keep the focus of the district on its students and improve the education they receive.
"I feel like my daughter got a much better education back there [in Illinois] than my two boys are getting here," she said.
She said in Illinois, it was much easier to get help for her sons, who are both on the autism spectrum. Here, she said she's seen more emphasis placed on English-language-learner students.
Beals was also critical of Superintendent Steven Ladd, saying he doesn't always consider every student.
"I, as an elementary school parent … I don't always feel like they were considered in every decision," Beals said. "Sometimes it felt like just the high schools were being considered."
Her involvement in education started with joining a parent-teacher association, and she and other parents formed a nonprofit group for Sunrise Elementary School so they wouldn't have to send a portion of member dues to the state and national parent-teacher association groups.
She said she would bring more transparency to the school board, saying the current leaders haven't been open about their policies for administrator pay and raises. She also said she's the best candidate for the job for one simple reason.
"I'm extremely passionate about it," Beals said. "I'm very passionate about doing what's good for the kids, and what's right for the kids, and making sure they're No. 1."
Carmine Forcina Says District Hasn't Been Creative with Budget Problems
The leaders at the helm of the Elk Grove Unified School District have been making bad decisions for years, but it wasn't really having an impact until the money dried up, school board candidate Carmine Forcina said.
"As long as there was money, the decisions that were made didn't have a dramatic impact on the day-to-day operations of schools and employees," Forcina said. "With that same level of decision-making, when things got bad fiscally, then the impact ... became immediate."
Forcina, who retired from the Santa Clara County Office of Education 15 years ago, is running for a seat on the Elk Grove Unified School District Board of Education. He said he has worked as a teacher, a principal and the Santa Clara County Assistant Superintendent of Student Services; he now works as a substitute teacher and volunteers in Elk Grove classrooms.
If elected, Forcina said he would work to bring more revenue to the district through business partnerships, foundations and grants. He would also create "whole cadres" of volunteers who could help with homework clubs and other extra activities.
Forcina said he's also an advocate for "zero-based budgeting," where officials start each year's budget from scratch and have to show why their program deserves to be funded in the following year.
Forcina, who has grandchildren in the district, said he's seen the quality of education in the area deteriorate, adding officials have "put the current budget problems on the back of staff." If elected, he said he would ask the tough questions needed to change the direction the district is headed.
"I have a genuine interest to see balance and confidence and respect restored and I believe that my background ... coupled with who I am and what I stand for, puts me in the position to be able to provide the leadership that's necessary to get this district moving again."
Al Rowlett Touts Relationship-Building Abilities
Al Rowlett's involvement in education began with a phone call and a question from a principal.
"[The principal of ] called me on the phone and said, 'Are you aware that there's an achievement gap that exists in public education?' " Rowlett said. "And I said, 'What's that? What's the achievement gap?' "
Now, two decades later, he's a trustee on the Elk Grove Unified School District Board of Education seeking reelection in Area 7. He was appointed to the board in 2009, and ran unopposed in the election that followed. This is the first time he has run opposed for public office.
He said one of his main goals is closing the achievement gap he first learned about from that phone call; he said he's worked toward that in a group he formed with other parents and in the parent-teacher association at David Reese.
Rowlett is the Chief Operating Officer of Turning Point Community Programs, a mental health organization; his late wife was a special educator, as is one of his daughters. He has two biological children and four adopted children. His youngest daughter is a sixth-grader, and the rest have graduated from three different Elk Grove schools.
"I'm not a newcomer to the district," Rowlett said. "At the same time, I'm a consumer of the district's services."
Rowlett described himself as "attentive to relationships," and said he wants to build bridges between the district and its workers. He pointed out that during negotiations, good ideas "aren't just coming from the district, but they're also coming from our labor unions."
Rowlett said technology is important in Elk Grove, and recalled a recent visit to an elementary school where a NASA representative was teaching the class via an interactive white board.
"It's naive and not forward-thinking for me to not embrace that," Rowlett said.
But the biggest challenge of all to the district is funding; Rowlett said despite his own personal beliefs, he hopes passes this November.
"I don't embrace more taxation," he said. "I have to set aside my own personal beliefs and feelings because I'm a trustee, and I have a responsibility to ensure the best possible education for our kids."